Thanks for stopping by, whether you got here by a link or hitting "next blog" -- I am glad you are here. I've also done some writing on homeschooling, and what I learned thinking I was teaching.

Monday, February 25, 2013

What to Think About

Where to direct my brain for exercise nowadays is tricky. Use it or lose it, the saying goes. We live in interesting times – a description some think to be to be a colorful curse, and I don’t like wasting resources that might be waning!  Reading is a super workout for the little gray cells – However, as much as I like a good read, I love a good movie. And this year we had aplenty!

Unfortunately, the annual self-congratulatory party the movie industry throws itself was enough to make me swear off future viewing. I sure wasted some wits watching the 2013 Oscars! Oscar night has not been the most edifying TV viewing for several years – or entertaining. The years when the movies had “too much ‘Good Friday’ and not enough ‘Easter’,” a description used by Martin Scorsese’s priest, I skipped Oscar night.  This year though, I had seen three of the films, and liked them. (Spirituality at the Oscars) So, I tuned in and taped it. 

I understood the host’s humor would be edgy – but he was never that good. Though a current cultural icon, I don’t remember his name – and won’t try to retrieve it.  He was a regrettable case in point of how miserable the modern propensity of mocking plays. (The Last Laugh)  None of his verbal skewers were much above the bathroom or gutter humor, until a zinger about John Wilkes Booth  and Abraham Lincoln took it lower, made me recoil.      

Yes, I am about to wrap myself up in robes of righteous indignation. But please bear with me.

That an American could mock the assassination of the 16th President of the United States, given the powerful movie in the running this year for so many awards, floored me. That any in the audience would laugh shows how poorly we grasp the history to which the movie, Lincoln, referred! How could anyone joke about gun violence – much less, we laugh about? And what are we thinking about if we laugh?

Am I missing something?

Yeah – I am missing about the hour and half that it took me to fast forward through a disappointing and depressing extravaganza. 

8-9 Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies. (Philippians 4:8 The Message)

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Living with Smart Technology

A conversation with a friend this morning reminded me how “wired” I am.  I am so reliant on “smart” things, but I have NO idea how any of them works. If one malfunctions – well, remember HAL in 2001?

Take the other night: Doug wanted to know if I heard a buzzing. 

I did.

We walked around the house, putting our ears up to the microwave, freezer, refridge . . . we even opened the back door to listen to the AC unit.  Finally, I listened to my purse and drew out my phone, which was  trembling – no kidding – and emitting an annoying buzz. I couldn’t turn it on to diagnose the issue – it reminded me of when one our kids were sick, and before they were old enough to tell me where it hurt.

Was the battery low?

I plugged it in. No response, only buzzing. Doug nestled it within a dishtowel to deaden its persistent din. An hour later, it was still complaining and I wanted to go to bed.

Should I leave it plugged in?

What if a low battery was not the issue, and keeping it connected to a power source would fuel an explosion?

I remembered computer batteries can set a computer on fire –or something to that effect. So, I unplugged the phone, still kept it wrapped up, and set beside the front door. Yes, I did – that way the firemen could easily find the source of the fire that might consume us in the night. Just enough knowledge to be useless!

No such flare-up disturbed us. By the morning – the phone indicated to Doug its battery was low. So,  I plugged it in and within an hour, all was well. I still don’t know exactly why the phone, which I thought was charged 65%, went nuts.

So, although I don’t exactly why or how any of my electronic devices do anything, these conveniences have become oh so necessary for comfort and amusement, and community.  And I am not alone. The world is as dependent on invisible power, most of us cannot comprehend, for our entire well-being.

Consider our responses when we misplace a remote control, or the smart technology guiding our lives fails.  If I am not tearing the couch apart, looking for the control, I am yelling at a recording patiently asking me who I am, where I am, and in a word describe my problem. Or, I have just disconnected myself from its probing questions, or any possibility of solving the problem my smart appliance has dropped in my lap.  

Am I behaving toward the increasingly ubiquitous technology the way anti-theists react to God?

. . . Many smart technologies are heading in another, more disturbing direction. A number of thinkers in Silicon Valley see these technologies as a way not just to give consumers new products that they want but to push them to behave better. Sometimes this will be a nudge; sometimes it will be a shove. But the central idea is clear: social engineering disguised as product engineering. (Is Smart Making Us DUMB?)

When people get angry at God, or with the idea of God it is often because He’s laid out some game-changers for our conduct. Most who resist the God of Scripture have heard about Him, but not studied His word. It’s up to Christians to be the closest thing to the Bible the world may see – and we aren’t always so great at doing this.  But, perhaps the warning in the Wall Street Journal piece mentioned above can apply to us?  

Truly smart technologies will remind us that we are not mere automatons who assist big data in asking and answering questions. Unless designers of smart technologies take stock of the complexity and richness of the lived human experience—with its gaps, challenges and conflicts—their inventions will be destined for the SmartBin of history.

Unless we see the humanity in those with whom we differ, and until we learn to speak the language, and feel the pain, of this generation, we may be like I was: hearing a buzz, feeling the tremble, being terrified I could be harmed in the encounter – but not having a clue how to be useful.  

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Getting and Using A Playbook

We saw Silver Linings Playbook in the theatre Friday night. There is much to commend the movie: excellent acting, and a fine script with believable conversations, and first-rate photography.  As the story unfolds and introduces Pat, his family, friends and then Tiffany, the film shows where more and more people seem to be camping – between profanity and insanity. Every character is in a difficult spot because of circumstances they did not ask for – or choices they unwisely made.  They have been hurt and they hurt others. And just about every one drops the F-bomb constantly – except the mom.

Its title describes how the main character, Pat, regains his mental health after a psychiatric breakdown, and in the midst of a dysfunction family and community.  His therapist urges him to develop a strategy to overcome the crazy anger when it erupts – and take his meds -- although the meds contribute their own roadblocks to his recovery, bringing him down and contributing to weight gain.

Get a plan, work it and take your meds – Good advice.  Because, as Pat reflects:

The world will break your heart ten ways to Sunday. That's guaranteed. I can't begin to explain that. Or the craziness inside myself and everyone else . . .

Never have I heard a better bottom line of the truth we rarely see coming.

And yet, the same character Pat comes to love Sunday:

But guess what? Sunday's my favorite day again. I think of what everyone did for me, and I feel like a very lucky guy.

How he comes to feel so lucky is plot of this multi Oscar-nonimated film. The movie shows how getting a plan, working it, and taking meds can make a difference, especially when two characters, Pat and Tiffany were able to care more about others than themselves. So did using a mantra, “Excelsior”  -- which I learned means forever upward in Latin. We could all use a page or two from this playbook!

But nobody looks upward very much in the movie.  

God was given a cameo appearance, as the cliché portrait of Christ on a dingy wall in Pat’s parents’ home and later in their gaudy Nativity lawn decoration. 

What difference would God have made to any of the characters?

Christians meet people like Pat and Tiffany and their parents everyday – We are people like Pat and Tiffany and their parents!

The crazier things get, the harder it seems to tell myself that God is – and He cares.  And it is a question worth asking: Where was God when

·      Pat’s wife cuckolded him?  
·      Pat nearly beat the adulterer to death?
·      Pat’s dad blew his parenting responsibilities? 
·      Tiffany’s husband died and she made so many bad choices?

If He let these things happen, what’s in store for me? What difference does God make to us when our hearts break – I think that’s people want to know. 

Pat said life will break your heart – Christ said in this world you will have tribulation.
Pat was told to get a playbook, make a plan, and work it. Christ said He is the playbook  -- and the plan. (John 16:33) Pat said Sunday was a gain a great day when he thought about what everybody did for him. Christ commended the one healed leper who came back to say thanks. (Luke 17:11-17)

Practicing an attitude of gratitude may sound as clichéd as that portrait of Christ looked – but it is high up in my playbook. It isn’t second nature, any more than Pat’s learning to filter his words and choose to be a stand-up guy were his natural bent.

Using my playbook is better than telling you about it. Looking upward to God, and looking beyond myself shows how well I understand the plan.

A reminder from a friend that came recently in my email includes a timely prayer and a promise:

O Lord, who lends me life, lend me a heart replete with thankfulness.
--- William Shakespeare

THOUGHT FOR TODAY:  When I take the time to make a gratitude list, I invariably feel better.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

February 14, 2013

Anne Hathaway is celebrating Valentine’s Day by dancing. (One Billion Rising)

We, too, are invited to rise up from our jobs, duties, tasks, and dance, demanding an end to the terrible violence perpetrated against women and girls.  Apparently the United Nations, even, will suspend their deliberations, depart the building and go out into the streets of New York City and dance to draw attention to these horrific acts.  If dancing were all it took for us finally to open our eyes and see the broken and battered bodies, then shame on us for not recognizing this sooner. Go Anne!

In itself, permitting these acts to go on attests that we have not climbed too far from the “soup” out of which some hypothesize humans slithered.

Nevertheless, many folks are doing what they can to stop it. (International Justice Ministry) It’s never enough for the ones who have been brutalized today, though.

Violence against women is an evil epidemic, also destroying the humanity of the men who do such things.  Ms. Hathaway’s portrayal of a young woman brutalized by life and other men and women illuminated the anguish long borne by millions upon millions of women.  The numbers of humans harmed by our ignoring the atrocities is overwhelming!

But I don’t get the connection that dance parties will succeed in raising awareness and inciting action against personal perpetrators of domestic violence. Will the people who brutalize others now restrain themselves because women dance? Or, will many of us enjoy the dance parties, then congratulate ourselves for caring about hard issues without actually having to stop a beating?  

Oh. Would this be a good segway into the topic of sex-selection abortions? (Wiki link)   

background on one billion rising 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Numbers We Can Address

Twenty-nine percent of white children, 53% of Hispanics
73% of black children are born to unmarried women.
No Dad, Big Problem
The absence of a husband and father from the home is a strong contributing factor to 
poverty, school failure, crime, drug abuse, emotional disturbance and a host of other social problems. (Article)

Thirty years ago, when we first got involved helping unmarried women cope with unplanned pregnancies, the “professionals” said many of these young women who found themselves expecting a baby outside of marriage had broken relationships with their dads.   In those three decades, marriages have had a harder time holding together, and because of government subsidies, single parenting is the alternative to abortion or adoption or coerced marriages.

While we have helped women to survive – how are we helping the children to live without their fathers?

Or, do fathers matter so much in a child’s development? 

First based on personal observation, dads were more fun than moms. They do neat  flying tricks with itty-bitty babies. They can break mom-rules that kids can’t. They aren’t so uptight about mud and messes. They like to cook junk food and are more ready to go to McDonald’s than moms ever are. They will play video games with their kids, and the stories they tell of their growing –up adventures are often way more fun than moms’ stories about ballet recitals.  Their stories even make moms laugh – nervously.

But dads were also tougher, using far fewer words than moms. They don’t count to three; they issue one word commands in voices that send budding debaters scurrying. In the middle of the might, in the middle of a nightmare, dads seem bigger than any monsters who may have snuck under the bed.

But dads without moms aren’t any more super-powered than moms without dads.  Kids need a man and a woman even to have been created; how much more do little folk need both parents to grow up?

God bless the woman who has the courage to give her child life; God help us help her to raise that child – making us kind and encouraging. But God show us how to help boys become men who love and cherish the lives they create.    

Right now, there are fathers who have bolted from their daughters and sons. To an increasing number of men, the children they create are as notches on a gun, and the women seem to be powerless to persuade them otherwise. So little girls grow up, seeking a man’s approval, and settling for rough approximations; little boys grow up without a man’s guidance, and settle for cheap imitations. 

And single moms often break down under a load that is meant to be shared. 

Broken relationships with dads – whether they are corporate executives, Hollywood glamour-types, preachers, or drifters – have sharp edges that cut children’s hearts, and wound many others. Thirty years or more years of encouraging the brokenness isn’t making stronger or better communities.  

·      He didn't tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.  ~ Clarence Budington Kelland   

·      One father is more than a hundred Schoolemasters.  ~George Herbert, Outlandish Proverbs, 1640

·      Fathers represent another way of looking at life - the possibility of an alternative dialogue.  ~Louise J. Kaplan, Oneness and Separateness: From Infant to Individual, 1978

What’s the conversation we need to be having . . . first, in the church? We can’t offer much to social policy, until we are proving it is a good plan amongst ourselves.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Mending Torn Fabric with Civility

National Prayer Breakfast 2013
Dr. Ben Carson urged us to let go of “p.c.” Speech and respectfully discuss important issues while fabric of our nation is being challenged.  He made these remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast, a gathering of many hundreds of leaders and their friends, including the President and Vice-President of the United States.  He spoke plainly about public education, debt and our health care system’s problems.   

Bob Beckle on “The Five” said Dr. Carson was disrespectful of “authority” – and then his fellow panelists shushed his objections – albeit for time constraints. But it demonstrated how quick we are to shut off prickly points of view that differ from what we think is right, proper and good.

Dr. Carson’s remarks were pointed, and I can see why Mr. Beckle bristled.  It is disquieting to see powerful people publically opposed! Dr. Carson was not disrespectful, however, especially given what many who oppose our President freely say.   He reminded us that freedom of thought and speech is the bedrock of our nation’s liberty – as was the founding fathers’ expectation of an educated body of voters.

Dr. Carson said before those whose job it is to govern, we aren’t educating our children – or ourselves; our national debt is out of control, and we are not offering the health care to all our citizens we could and should. The emperor has no clothes.
But he offered specific solutions that he knows Americans and their leaders can achieve, because we are smart!

None of these solutions have more government.

His solution is that we take responsibility for our lives, while helping those whose circumstances and choices have sunk them. Dr. Carson has earned the right – although it is his birthright as an American -- to speak his mind. He is what Americans respect: a self-made, generous citizen, who gives the credit to his mom.

Though having only a third–grade education, Sonya Carson believed she could raise her boys to be men who would prosper. She did not believe she or they were victims. She taught her sons thrift and diligence – by her own determination. (More information)  She and her sons came out of the same poverty and racism that is drowning third and fourth generations of Americans.

We must rise above -- and help others soar.  Dr. Carson used an image – an eagle soars because if has two wings, right and left. America is not soaring. How we are debating and using our power is pulling us down. The left side of political spectrum urges many things that are caring, wise and vital. Yet, much that the right cautions is as compassionate, sensible and necessary. 

Public policy debate is unraveling our national fabric – in a world of forces opposed to liberty. Pointing out our nakedness and blaming each other for it will not clothe future generations or us! But owning up to our part in the unraveling and working to reweave what we can is the opportunity we have. 

The course our elected leaders are charting is and will have consequences that may be unpleasant and unforeseen – much the way framers of our Constitution could not have anticipated what their failure to abolish slavery would cost future generations.  We would be wise to consider the consequences of our current course – even speculating on what might be unintended consequences.

Having this conversation is complicated by how we talk about our positions – left and right.  Dr. Carson’s remarks set a high bar for a good conversation!  And the President’s remarks were equally worth the time to attend, as were Andre Botticelli’s spontaneous words, and Gabrielle Douglas’ closing prayer. I hope you will listen to it all. (National Prayer Breakfast 2013)

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Too Quick to Label?

A fellow blogger asked: Does it matter how we label issues or stances? How do we decide? (On Complexity and Compromise

Yes it matters – more than ever.

But how do we decide what issues to label, and to what end are the labels? And how unwavering must needs the stance we take be? A few years back I would have been surer of my answers.  

 I saw the solution recommended by MarshaGarbage unfold in the BBC three-part series, The Monastery. A genteel reality show, for sure, it recounted how twenty or so Benedictine monks welcomed five British men who voluntarily entered a monastery for 40 days seeking answers to their lives’ questions and discontent.  In the simplicity of their new routines within the monastery’s walls and rule, the men disconnected from 21st century life, and entered a world of silence, contemplative prayer, and worship. Each man found more than he bargained for. 

But not because any monk argued him into changing his worldview.

The five men became open to listening to the monks because the monks demonstrated unfailing care and compassion -- concern for their guests well being.  On one level, this “reality” series demonstrated a tired platitude: Preach the Gospel at all times; use words if necessary. (Misquoting Francis of Assisi.) But, to the point, the monks’ few words matched their many deeds.

None of the monks labeled their guests – nor lectured them on their life- choices. 

Nevertheless, through their gentle questions, asked at just the right time, after hours of silence, worship and Bible study, they helped their guests come to know God, and themselves. Only once did the head of the monastery exert his authority. When a simmering quarrel amongst the guests threatened to tear apart the fabric of fellowship and spirituality that had been woven, he softly insisted that the men examine themselves and reconcile.

Few people have such an opportunity to come away from the world, think and pray. Fewer still have such an inclination. The world has embraced and is promoting life styles that are an anathema to Christian doctrine – and commonsense.  I can do very little, save putting a finger in the dyke when called to duty. But the church is faltering, much the way Christ showed John in Revelation 2-3. We all need to come away!

We may rightly sound the alarm, hoping that the world and the church will wake up and stop their foolishness – but labeling  people who are asleep is a tool requiring wisdom and forbearance – for such were thee and me before Christ intervened, and saved us.  (1 Corinthians 6:10-11)

The times are uncertain – upsetting; what I was so sure of a few years back, I am rethinking how to describe and what to do. The world will not change because I think I know a better way. But I can change.

The monks showed sensitivity; they practiced compassion; they worked to understand their guest, and served them with humility, as they showed them how to find and address root problems. At one point, a monk blessed the young man in his care – whose profession had been in the pornography industry. But he never labeled him – and made no speech about the real evil that pornography is. Subsequently, the young man embraced Christ and left his profession. Not every man embraced the Cross – but each testified the discipline, prayer, worship and fellowship changed them.

A resounding gong has no melody the world can hear – nor any harmony that appeals to many Christians, either.  (1 Corinthians 13 )

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end. (The Message)